MIG’s SHORT TAKES – Movies of 2008 & 2009

I have a relatively sizable movie collection at my home, and during this current quarantine period, I’ve been watching quite a few of them, as you can imagine.

However, for reasons which surpass my own understanding, it has become difficult for me to complete full reviews of some of the outstanding films I’ve watched recently. (Only nine completed reviews since January 2020.) I have started no less than five reviews recently where my, I dunno, inspiration petered out before reaching an appropriate conclusion, so I abandoned them.

(Meanwhile, Marc is a freaking MACHINE, having submitted SIXTY-THREE reviews in the last five months. Kudos.)

But I felt I owed it to some of the best movies that I’ve watched recently to at least give them a mention. Most of you will have already seen a lot of these movies, but not all of you. And it’s to the latter folks that I would like to say: if you have not seen these movies, you really ought to put them on your list. Set aside that binge-fest of “Parks and Recreation” or “Tiger King” or whatever and give one of these movies a shot. They’re all worth a look…and one or two of them are straight-up masterpieces.

Since I’ve been watching them in chronological order by release date – because I CAN – I present them in that order, as well.

1) ROCKNROLLA, 10/31/2008 – A gloriously decadent tale of sex, thugs, and rock and roll. British director Guy Ritchie is in peak form as he spins a convoluted (yet easy-to-follow) tale of a British mobster who is closing a huge land deal with a Russian gangster, but then the Russian’s favorite painting goes missing, and then a sexy, duplicitous accountant arranges for her boss’s money to be stolen, and then a presumed-dead rock star turns up alive and well, and it’s ALL connected, and all quite funny, I assure you.

2) SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, 11/12/2008 – A poor young man is about to win the grand prize on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, but because he is just a poor man, it is assumed he must be cheating, so he is hauled away, beaten, and tortured – yes, tortured – until he reveals how he knew the answers. This he does, spinning a decades-long tale of friendship, long-lost love, and true brotherhood. This Best Picture winner, directed by Danny Boyle, is shamefully manipulative and schmaltzy at times. But if you don’t finish the movie feeling elated and happy and dizzy with the possibilities of romance and believing that, yes, love really and truly CAN conquer all, then you need a checkup from the neck up.

3) WATCHMEN, 3/6/2009 – In the mid-‘80s of an alternate reality, Nixon has just been elected to his fifth term, Vietnam is the 51st American state, and superheroes have been outlawed by the federal government. When someone murders a retired vigilante, the other retired heroes band together and try to figure out who the murderer is and if he’s still out there hunting them down. (That’s REALLY just scraping the surface, but if you watch this movie, you’ll see what I mean.) Director Zack Snyder’s massive follow-up to “300” is a visual and intellectual feast, taking on the impossible task of adapting the most celebrated graphic novel of all time for the big screen, and succeeding. Purists may quibble at the ending (I know I did), but it still works extremely well.

4) KNOWING, 3/20/2009 – I am PROBABLY going to be alone on this one, but I think this is one of the neatest, most enthralling sci-fi stories I’ve ever seen. An M.I.T. professor discovers that a list of seemingly random numbers, found in a fifty-year-old time capsule, is actually providing the dates of every major disaster of the last 50 years, along with the number of casualties. He notes with some alarm that the list provides dates for events that haven’t happened yet, so he does his best to convince everyone around him that disasters are coming AND that he’s not crazy, even though he’s played by Nicolas Cage. When the ending arrives, I don’t know what to tell you, I thought it was completely awe-inspiring and utterly logical. How ELSE should it end? Should there have been a cop-out, Shyamalan-esque ending? No. I will stand by and defend the ending of this movie till the cows come home. It’s nervy and brilliant.

5) G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA, 8/7/2009 – Okay, look, it’s not like I’m saying this is “Iron Man” or “The Avengers”, but for pure escapist fun that is riddled with childhood nostalgia AND some nifty visuals, “G.I. Joe” is hard to beat. (At least until “Ready Player One” came along, but that’s another article.) In a plot that feels lifted right out of the old cartoon show, Duke and Ripcord join the elite G.I. Joe military unit, led by General Hawk, in order to retrieve stolen warheads armed with highly destructive nanotechnology. The bad-ass action scenes look about as realistic as a video game, but I choose to believe that, in a sneaky way, that was kind of the point of the movie, that it wasn’t meant to BE realistic. It’s just a lot of fun. (Avoid the sequel…not as much fun as the first one.)

6) THE INVENTION OF LYING, 10/2/2009 – This is a tricky one, because while I see the POINT of the movie, it’s hard to explain how funny it is without seeming to offend the massive population of people for whom religion is sacred. In an alternate world where humankind never developed the ability to lie, one man’s synapses fire a little differently one day and he is suddenly able to tell a lie. This is so groundbreaking, he doesn’t even have a word for it. (“I said something…that WASN’T.”) However, this backfires on him because, since no one in this world has ever told a lie, everyone believes anything you say without question. Well, one day he visits his ailing mother in a nursing home, and when she expresses how scared she is of dying, he spins a tale of a beautiful place where everyone goes where they die, with mansions and loved ones and eternal happiness. But now everyone within earshot believes his story without question and wants to know more. And they tell THEIR friends, and those friends tell THEIR friends, and soon multitudes of people are at this man’s door, demanding to know what he knows about the afterlife…and so on. As someone who was raised a Christian his entire life, I can appreciate the irony of this sharp satire without feeling offended, but I know personally of some people (mostly family members) who would not take kindly to the concept of heaven and religion being a lie. …and now you know why I couldn’t complete a full review of this movie, because it just opens too many cans of metaphysical worms. But I love it, I love the satire, the almost sci-fi nature of the story, and yes, I even like the happy-sappy ending. I can’t explain it logically.

7) ZOMBIELAND, 10/2/2009 – A meta-movie about zombies that acknowledges its own tropes and stereotypes? Yes, please. After a zombie apocalypse has devastated the world, four disparate survivors form a shaky alliance as they try to find the one thing that matters most in this new world: a Twinkie. Not even making that up. What sets this movie apart is the aforementioned self-awareness of the tropes they’re experiencing; they know how to survive because, you know, they’ve seen zombie movies. (“Shaun of the Dead” used this same formula to great effect, as well.) And the utterly unexpected cameo in the middle is one of the best cameos in the history of cameos.

😎 WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, 10/16/2009 – Max, a rambunctious 10-year-old boy, runs away from home one day and finds himself on the shores of a fantastic world populated by the kind of monsters a kid might dream up, monsters who almost instantly make him their king. But being in charge isn’t all wild rumpuses and dirt-clod fights and building forts, as Max slowly and reluctantly discovers. If Spike Jonez’s movie adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s seminal children’s book had existed in a vacuum – that is, if the book had never existed and someone made this movie – I believe it would have been instantly hailed as a masterpiece of the genre. Instead, it has sadly been forgotten or disregarded, which is a shame, because this is a kid’s movie unlike any other. First of all, the monsters are a thing of beauty, a combination of live-action and CG that is tough to top. Second, the subtle ways in which Max slowly comes to realize what adults experience are beautifully done. This is an unfairly ignored tour de force.

…and I think that will just about do it for now. Savvy movie fans may note that I have left out some key films from 2009, which I did watch, but didn’t mention above: District 9, Star Trek, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Inglourious Basterds, Avatar, some others. I can’t think of anything I can add to the volumes and volumes that have already been written about those films, so I’ll leave those for later, perhaps. Maybe when I am more loquacious. Or not. Who knows. Miguel E. Rodriguez, signing off and heading to the movie room.

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